The SKS is a classic semi automatic rifle that was designed in 1943 by Sergei Simonov. SKS actually stands for Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova, which is a mouthful, so I hope you don’t mind if I just call it the SKS from here forward. The SKS was designed to replace the aging Mosin Nagant as an infantry weapon, and the SKS design was directly influenced by the fighting lessons learned in World War 2. The SKS reportedly saw some service in World War 2 but was very, very limited.
The SKS was not the first semi-automatic rifle fielded with the Russian infantry, but it was the first to see widespread production. The SKS rifle is less powerful than the SVT 40 and the Mosin Nagant it preceded, but it was also smaller, lighter, and much more maneuverable. The Soviets were really the major nation to get rid of a full powered battle rifle cartridge and settle into a lighter, smaller, lower recoiling intermediate cartridge. The SKS fed on an internal fixed magazine that was fed with ten round stripper clips.
The reason the Russian turned to the SKS and in smaller part to the 7.6 x 39mm round is that they discovered that the full powered bolt action rifles they issued were not well suited for this new form of warfare. On the other hand, the Submachine gun was effective in close quarters, but beyond 100 yards became compromised and nearly worthless. The SKS was a compromise between the powerful Mosin Nagant, and the fast firing, easy handling submachine gun.
The SKS is comparable in some ways to the German STG 44, one of the first real assault rifles. The SKS was more rifle than a submachine gun, and it did not feature a select fire component. Over the course of six years, the supposed bugs were worked out, and the rifle was adopted for general service in 1949. Like many Russian designs, the SKS was shared with other communist countries, and different variants were introduced around the world.
While the Chinese, Yugoslavs, Albanians, Koreans, East Germans, and the Vietnamese all produced the SKS rifle, the design was largely unchanged. There were minor changes that resulted in different bayonets, night sights, muzzle grenade launchers, and gas port controls. Several other countries produced unlicensed copies as well.
The SKS found its way into many countries and into many wars. To this day it’s not uncommon for the SKS to find its way into the battlefield. This is evidenced by news footage of the Ukrainian civil war, where Ukrainian forces are armed with the SKS rifle. While the SKS served with distinction, it was soon outclassed by the more modern assault rifle, the AK 47.
The SKS was not widely replaced for some time, as the AK 47 was just entering production. The SKS remained in use by second line troops, and reserve forces long after the AK 47 entered into service. The SKS remains in service to this day in use by ceremonial troops, and for use in parades, and other ceremonies.
The SKS may not have served very long with the Russian forces, but it did see an extended service life with armies around the world. The Chinese SKS rifle was the workhorse of the PLA for decades. The rifle has gone on to be a favorite of Americans who imported the rifle in massive numbers. The SKS is still serving strongly around the world and in the homes of American collectors.